Fuller, Alexandra 1969-
FULLER, Alexandra 1969-
PERSONAL: Born 1969, in England; immigrated to United States, 1994; daughter of Tim (a farmer) and Nicola (a farmer) Fuller; married Charlie Ross. Education: Acadia University (Nova Scotia, Canada), B.A.
ADDRESSES: Agent—Random House, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood (memoir), Random House (New York, NY), 2001.
SIDELIGHTS: Alexandra Fuller was born in England but grew up in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe since 1980) from the age of two, during the period of struggle between white settlers who were intent on retaining rule and the black Rhodesian nationalists fighting for independence. Like their parents, Tim and Nicola, the Fuller children, learned to strip, clean, load, and fire the guns in the house, including automatic weapons. They traveled in groups, always on the lookout for mines and booby traps, and at home they were alert for the natural hazards of the region, including the scorpions, snakes, and six-foot monitor lizards that often found their way into the house. Sheila Shoup commented in School Library Journal that "this was no ordinary childhood, and it makes a riveting story thanks to an extraordinary telling."
In Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood Fuller writes about what it was like to be a privileged white child in a segregated society. Despite her privileged status, her life was extremely difficult. Three of her siblings are buried in Africa: one died of meningitis, one drowned, and one died at birth. The farm on which Fuller and her surviving sibling, Vanessa, lived as children was simple. The buildings, including the house, were crude, there was no indoor plumbing, and their parents were constantly trying to pay off their debts. Fuller writes that during droughts, crocodiles searched their fields for water. The family lived in extremely hot and humid conditions, and slept surrounded by the humming of mosquitoes.
Fuller provides a history of Rhodesia, from it's naming by Cecil Rhodes through Ian Smith's declaration of independence from Britain in 1965 to the continuing crises that followed the ascent to power of President Robert Mugabe in 1980.
One of Fuller's most vivid memories is one of her mother, on horseback and pregnant, singlehandedly fighting off squatters attempting to take over their land. Fuller's mother drank heavily and suffered from manic depression. "Like the formidable parents of other memoirs . . . Fuller's mother qualifies for the rogue's gallery of unforgettable antagonists," wrote Gail Caldwell in the Boston Globe. "The family story within Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight is all the more remarkable for the complexity it contains, rendered here, like Fuller's Africa, with startling, laconic passion." Spectator contributor Robert Oakeshott noted of Fuller's mother that "she survives, and my guess is that most readers will find themselves feeling a good deal of sympathy for her and admiring her courage." Writing in the New York Times Book Review Stephen Clingman called Nicola Fuller "surely one of the most memorable characters of African memoir."
Clingman felt that "a number of things save all this from the maudlin. One is the way in which Fuller tells a story that follows its own reality, no matter what the usual prescriptions. . . . And there is, of course, the comedy, often involving copious amounts of alcohol—not least at a totally drink-sodden Christmas party where a brandy-soaked cake explodes."
Oakeshott wrote, "I have not the space to offer examples of . . . [Fuller's] unforgettable descriptions of Africa's sights, sounds, and smells. But they are most striking. On the other hand . . . readers must be warned to expect explicitly racist language. Mum . . . has no qualms about using the phrase 'fucking Kaffir,' whether in the singular or plural. And early on, the author offers a glossary of terms for the blacks in common use among the then (1970s) white Rhodesians."
"What sustains the Fullers through these difficulties and what lends this book its power is the family's unaccommodated love for Africa," wrote Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times, "a love untainted, perhaps even galvanized, by their isolation and travails. In their arduous efforts to farm the land—to plant and harvest a crop of tobacco and see it safely to market; to reclaim a farmhouse from termites and rats and the encroaching jungle—there is a hard-won respect for nature and Africa's tropical defiance of human order."
In a Times Literary Supplement review, Deborah L. Manzolillo called Fuller "a funny and brilliant writer. . . . Her book is humorous and evenhanded; it displays a wealth of understanding and sympathy for both sides of one of the continent's most bitter conflicts." Africana.com writer Cynthia R. Greenlee concluded her review by saying that Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight "is a courageous memoir about complicated times and an equally complicated family. You may not want to know them, may even despise them at times, but you never doubt that they're real."
Richard Dowden wrote in New Statesman that "you put down Alexandra Fuller's account of her childhood in Ian Smith's Rhodesia and wonder how anyone could make the period of the vicious war for white supremacy so moving and funny." Dowden noted that Fuller's parents "worked hard, cared for the land, but were poor. Yet, while they shared all the prejudices of other white colonialists about Africans in general, they loved and cared for the Africans who worked from them. They and their workers respected each other. This is a paradox that I have never been able to resolve, and Fuller's book only makes it starker."
"This is not a book you read just once," said Malcolm Jones in Newsweek, "but a tale of terrible beauty to get lost in over and over." Fuller writes from the point of view of a child when she describes her childhood, and Booklist's Kristine Huntley said that her "young viewpoint will engross teens interested in the white experience in southern Africa." "The narrative seems complicated . . . but its emotional core remains honest, playful, and unapologetic," wrote Rachel Collins in Library Journal. "A classic is born in this tender, intensely moving, and even delightful journey," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. In a Kirkus Reviews article, the writer commented that "Fuller loved and loves her Africa; in the final analysis that passion takes a bright and vivid story to the next level, and even further."
Fuller now lives in Wyoming with her husband, an American who once ran a safari company in Zambia. Her parents and sister remain in Zambia, where they moved after many years in Zimbabwe and then Malawi.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Fuller, Alexandra, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight:An African Childhood, Random House (New York, NY), 2001.
Booklist, November 1, 2002, Kristine Huntley, review of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, p. 1087.
Boston Globe, January 13, 2002, Gail Caldwell, review of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2001, review of Don'tLet's Go to the Dogs Tonight, p. 1401.
Library Journal, November 1, 2001, Rachel Collins, review of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, p. 101.
Maclean's, March 25, 2002, review of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, p. 58.
New Statesman, February 18, 2002, Richard Dowden, review of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, p. 50.
Newsweek, January 14, 2002, Malcolm Jones, review of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, p. 62.
New York Times, December 21, 2001, Michiko Kakutani, review of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, p. E51.
New York Times Book Review, January 27, 2002, Stephen Clingman, review of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, p. 26.
Publishers Weekly, October 22, 2001, review of Don'tLet's Go to the Dogs Tonight, p. 60.
Queen's Quarterly, spring, 2002, Kate Sterns, review of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, p. 87.
School Library Journal, July, 2002, Sheila Shoup, review of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, p. 145.
Spectator, June 8, 2002, Robert Oakeshott, review of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, p. 52.
Times Literary Supplement, April 19, 2002, Deborah L. Manzolillo, review of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, p. 28.
Guardian Unlimited,http://www.guardian.co.uk/ (August 31, 2002), Alexandra Fuller, "The Bitter Harvest."
World and I,http://www.worldandi.com/ (August 31, 2002), Judith Chettle, review of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight.*